PEACE PROBE by Gene Stoltzfus


Our Way of Life by peaceprobe
August 26, 2009, 6:05 pm
Filed under: First Nations People, Nonviolence | Tags: , , ,

Our Way of Life
Last week I attended the fourth in a series of council meetings in my township, Alberton.  The room was full again because the council was scheduled to vote on making a zoning change so that Weechi-it-te-win, a native family services organization could purchase a farm where it would open a new facility for youth.  Dozens of worried, angry people have spoken up and shouted out at the council meetings.  “Our Way of Life” is threatened said one young man who is starting a family. Across the highway from the projected facility, FOR SALE signs have appeared in several yards, a visible signal of protest although the owners must not be serious because their prices are highly inflated.
I first learned the language of threat used with the phrase “Our Way of Life” during the 1950s emanating from white supremacists in Alabama as the civil rights movement heated up.  My home was then in Ohio. I knew something was wrong about race relations but couldn’t figure out how it affected me and my way of life.  So in the late 50s as a student at Eastern Mennonite University (Virginia) I wrote and delivered a speech for an oratorical contest condemning segregation and racist thinking .  It was actually a pretty safe thing to do.  In those days we generally believed that racism was wrong but it didn’t occur to us very often that people like me could do something about it.  After the speech a few people came to me to suggest that I may have stepped over the line and some people were offended by my speech.  It was all very polite. Nothing like the doomsday, “Our Way of Life” protests I felt in Alberton last week.  Or maybe I just was not listening very well.
The other day I learned that some Americans say that Obama’s health reform agenda is dangerous because it threatens “Our Way of Life”. Although I am living in Canada where I enjoy public health care I occasionally sneak a peak at American news where some commentators tell me how bad the Canadian health system is.  I could not have known this by living here in Canada because for the first time in my life I go to the clinic for preventative check ups regularly and I am getting healthier. I have only lived here for five years so I might have a myopic view.   In Chicago where I lived before I only went to an emergency room if I was really sick, and I worried that they would clean out my billfold.
This ongoing tussle with the shadowy side of our common life brings me back home here to Alberton township, (dispersed rural population 1000) where the council voted down the application for the native run youth facility on zoning grounds.   The “Our Way of Life” people and the strict zoning interpreters on the council won out for now.  I wonder what the council would have done if zoning changes were requested to pave the way for a university computer research facility.  Would that fit into the Business Park zoning designation. That would have really challenge “Our Way of Life”.  And if the paper mill that employs 650 people would close or downsize what would that do to zoning and “Our Way of Life”?
Now in Alberton  I am faced with the same “Way of Life” problem I faced fifty years ago when I was a student in Virginia.  Do I stay quiet, keep the lawn mowed, and try to be nice to my neighbours?  Do I make a sign “Natives, Non Natives, There is room for all of us” and walk or bicycle the forty or so miles of Alberton roads inviting my neighbours to a conversation.   I am not sure how I feel about walking these roads alone. The tone of the meetings in the council chamber is stuck right now but what happened in Alabama tells me that things don’t stay stuck forever, even though Birmingham is not yet perfect..
The North American continent is stumbling towards a “Way of Life” that could be good for all of us.  The unfinished project of equality, and democracy sometimes gets in the way of “Our ‘current’ Way of Life”.  The lawyers scramble for the spoils when we have disagreements like this.  Law helps but it doesn’t change my deeper side. I learned to try to be true to what is right in Sunday School a long time ago. I am not always successful.  Education helps me sometimes but I forget very quickly.  So how do I listen to my moral conviction, and outrage and help harvest them into a “Way of Life” that awakens the best for all of us, native, non native, timber worker, unemployed, professional, youth and retired?   Adjustments to an always changing “Way of Life” may be inconvenient in the short run. I think I can handle this walk through the valley of shadows but I will only know as I do it one step at a time.  I invite my neighbours to walk with me.

Last week I attended the fourth in a series of council meetings in my township, Alberton.  The room was full again because the council was scheduled to vote on making a zoning change so that Weechi-it-te-win, a native family services organization could purchase a farm where it would open a new facility for youth.  Dozens of worried, angry people have spoken up and shouted out at the council meetings.  “Our Way of Life” is threatened said one young man who is starting a family. Across the highway from the projected facility, FOR SALE signs have appeared in several yards, a visible signal of protest although the owners must not be serious because their prices are highly inflated.

I first learned the language of threat used with the phrase “Our Way of Life” during the 1950s emanating from white supremacists in Alabama as the civil rights movement heated up.  My home was then in Ohio. I knew something was wrong about race relations but couldn’t figure out how it affected me and my way of life.  So in the late 50s as a student at Eastern Mennonite University (Virginia) I wrote and delivered a speech for an oratorical contest condemning segregation and racist thinking .  It was actually a pretty safe thing to do.  In those days we generally believed that racism was wrong but it didn’t occur to us very often that people like me could do something about it.  After the speech a few people came to me to suggest that I may have stepped over the line and some people were offended by my speech.  It was all very polite. Nothing like the doomsday, “Our Way of Life” protests I felt in Alberton last week.  Or maybe I just was not listening very well.

The other day I learned that some Americans say that Obama’s health reform agenda is dangerous because it threatens “Our Way of Life”. Although I am living in Canada where I enjoy public health care I occasionally sneak a peak at American news where some commentators tell me how bad the Canadian health system is.  I could not have known this by living here in Canada because for the first time in my life I go to the clinic for preventative check ups regularly and I am getting healthier. I have only lived here for five years so I might have a myopic view.   In Chicago where I lived before I only went to an emergency room if I was really sick, and I worried that they would clean out my billfold.

This ongoing tussle with the shadowy side of our common life brings me back home here to Alberton township, (dispersed rural population 1000) where the council voted down the application for the native run youth facility on zoning grounds.   The “Our Way of Life” people and the strict zoning interpreters on the council won out for now.  I wonder what the council would have done if zoning changes were requested to pave the way for a university computer research facility.  Would that fit into the Business Park zoning designation. That would have really challenge “Our Way of Life”.  And if the paper mill that employs 650 people would close or downsize what would that do to zoning and “Our Way of Life”?

Now in Alberton  I am faced with the same “Way of Life” problem I faced fifty years ago when I was a student in Virginia.  Do I stay quiet, keep the lawn mowed, and try to be nice to my neighbours?  Do I make a sign “Natives, Non Natives, There is room for all of us” and walk or bicycle the forty or so miles of Alberton roads inviting my neighbours to a conversation.   I am not sure how I feel about walking these roads alone. The tone of the meetings in the council chamber is stuck right now but what happened in Alabama tells me that things don’t stay stuck forever, even though Birmingham is not yet perfect..

The North American continent is stumbling towards a “Way of Life” that could be good for all of us.  The unfinished project of equality, and democracy sometimes gets in the way of “Our ‘current’ Way of Life”.  The lawyers scramble for the spoils when we have disagreements like this.  Law helps but it doesn’t change my deeper side. I learned to try to be true to what is right in Sunday School a long time ago. I am not always successful.  Education helps me sometimes but I forget very quickly.  So how do I listen to my moral conviction, and outrage and help harvest them into a “Way of Life” that awakens the best for all of us, native, non native, timber worker, unemployed, professional, youth and retired?   Adjustments to an always changing “Way of Life” may be inconvenient in the short run. I think I can handle this walk through the valley of shadows but I will only know as I do it one step at a time.  I invite my neighbours to walk with me.

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2 Comments so far
Leave a comment

Thank you or this, Gene. I remember some years ago GWBush, speaking of the threats facing the United States bravely asserted “Our way of life is not negotiable!” I am pretty sure that I heard him say this during the season of Lent. Of course our way of life is negotiable. The Law, the Prophets, the Gospel, all insist that our way of life is and must be negotiable. My prayers are with you and with your neighbors.
Brian

Comment by Brian

You have presented the reason that “think globally, act locally” is such an important part of making the world habitable. If we can’t confront the social injustice in our own communities, how can we do it half way around the world (even when our own government may be the perpetrator). So I urge you to make the walk, but no alone. Just as worship works best in community, so does civic action. As you begin knocking on doors I am sure you will find more people who think like you than do not.

You are right. Birmingham has changed, though most of the world does not want to believe it. We still live in largely isolated communities, but separated as much by class as race, and we worship in largely segregated environments but the community as a whole has accepted the diversity in our midst, including the speakers of the twenty six different languages present in my sons’ middle school. A black boy and white girl holding hands on the street would receive about as much attention as a fire hydrant. Sometimes there are surprises like when the baseball team from the historically black college, Miles, was honored at a Birmingham City Council meeting and nine out of eleven players were white. Seems blacks don’t play baseball much these days and white ball players go to whatever college gives them the best opportunity.

I appreciate your writings, including one recently about a young boy who was told “nobody won”. It was very moving.

Dick

Comment by peaceprobe




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